BWW Reviews: Playhouse Merced Makes a Believer With Fun, Original SHREK
Playhouse Merced continues to prove itself with challenging material and increasingly talented casts. Having opened their season last fall with the epic Les Miserables, they now turn to the imaginative Shrek the Musical, and their new season is just around the corner with a special announcement event planned for March 22.
As faithful audiences await the announcement, Shrek has begun to sell out. Director Robert Hypes brings new comedy and unique staging to the already hilarious material. Even fans of the Broadway musical, now available on DVD and Blu-ray, will find Hypes' take completely original, fresh and helped along by flawless fairy tale creature costumes by trio Cindy Strauss, Corey Strauss and Dianne Kocher.
The musical's emotional core lends itself to some beautiful ballads, which highlight Shrek's need for love despite his ogre instinct to push others away. Many an introvert will relate to his story. Joel Scott Shade leads the small, piano-dominated orchestra in several catchy tunes, including an extended version of the original animated film's "Welcome to Duloc." A few songs have been cut or changed from the original Broadway musical, but to no negative effect.
On a quest to save a princess for Lord Farquaad and thus earn the deed to his swamp, Shrek meets the hyper Donkey, a soulful G.B. Blackmon with a killer voice. Shrek finds more in common with Princess Fiona than first impressions allow, leading to an unconventional fairy tale love story. Rachel Pearre portrays Fiona's childhood dreams of a perfect rescue, her anxious desires and her hormonal ups and downs with contagious, frolicsome energy. Such liveliness does not come at short supply. The incredible Joe Hypes performs the entirety of the show on his knees with priceless facial expressions as Lord Farquaad.
Merced's cast of fairy tale creatures also includes cartoon-voiced Patrick Keegan McKenna as Pinocchio and vocally strong Dianne Kocher as the Dragon. Garrett Mayer gives a wonderfully memorable performance in the Captain of the Guard's hilarious short bits throughout the show. But the true standout of the show wears green. Stephen Mouilleseaux has Shrek's accent down to perfection, and he provides a satisfying two hours of gassy, sweaty stomping slap-stick humor in addition to showing Shrek's softer side.
Chad Phillips adds a colorful light design to match the show's colorful characters. And Corey Strauss' choreography and scenic design round out a near-perfect production. Playhouse Merced has outdone itself on this ogre of a musical.
Through March 16